It was nearly noon when Devlin Judge arrived in the town of Inzell. If the drive from Heidelberg to Dachau had proven easy, the same could not be said for the trek to Sonnenbrucke. Once outside Munich, the road had begun a steady climb uphill, narrowing to the width of a Brooklyn sidewalk, then assuming an unfriendly series of twists and turns that left his stomach queasy and his arms cramped. The soaring pine vistas and plunging granite gorges were feet away, but miles beyond his internal horizon. Since leaving Dachau he'd been preoccupied by a single matter: the betrayal of his visit to the camp and the murder of General Oliver von Luck.
At first glance, it seemed an open and shut case. Who but Mullins knew he harbored doubts about Seyss's death? Or that he wanted to use von Luck to identify Seyss's body? Honey could only intuit such things and he could hardly have known that Judge would act so quickly. Knowledge and opportunity seemed to point to Mullins.
What, then, was Judge to make of the military ribbon I Volkmann had gifted him? The Silver Star was one of the nation's highest military decorations, awarded to recognize conspicuous heroism and gallantry in combat. Fifty percent of men who received it did so posthumously. It was hardly an everyday trinket. Physical evidence so rare was a prosecutor's dream, to be ignored at great peril.
Your chauffeur's got himself a Silver Star, Mullins had said.He's a hero.
Opening his hand, Judge stole a glance at the ribbon of red, white, and blue, and his doubts about Sergeant Darren Honey multiplied. Why had Honey secretly interrogated Bauer? Why had he instructed him to keep their conversation a secret? And to whom had he divulged the explosive content of Bauer's statement? Honey was bright, ambitious and, Judge was beginning to realize, very, very sly.
Yet the consideration of motive prevented Judge from closing his case. Why would someone want to disguise Seyss's escape from the armory? To ensure Tally Ho was graded a success? To keep George Patton smiling? No sir, answered Judge. Killing von Luck went far beyond currying favor with a superior. In the wake of Bauer's revelation that Seyss had planned to lead his men to the outskirts of Berlin, accomplices to von Luck's death were not only accessories to murder, but quite possibly treason. Seyss was not going to Babelsberg. He was going to Potsdam. And Judge had a good idea what he planned to do once there.
More than ever, then, he needed to prove that Seyss was alive. He required a witness who could point at the butchered remains lying on a gurney in the basement of the American Military Hospital in Heidelberg and state with irrefutable certainty, "That is not Erich Seyss." Only then, could he return to his superiors, present Bauer's confession, and demand that the search for the White Lion be reinstated.
Steering the Jeep past an ornate fountain, Judge braked in front of the village grocer. However detailed his roadmap, it did not show the route to Sonnenbrucke. When he'd come before, it was via a different and even more mountainous path. The store was small, half as large again as a Coney Island hot dog stand. Inside, a single counter was surrounded by sparse shelves that sagged with the memory of better times. The grocer's cheery disposition belied his dim commercial prospects. When asked for instructions how to reach the Bach family hunting lodge, he escorted Judge to the front stoop and pointed to a steep dirt and gravel road peeling off from east side of the fountain. "Take that trail two kilometers until you come to a fork. Stay left, always going up, up, up. After another kilometer you come to a beautiful old oak at least twenty meters tall. Don't turn there. Continue past it until…"
His words were drowned out by the shrill rev of approaching engines.
Two Jeeps barreled into Inzell, careering round the fountain then shooting up the road to Sonnenbrucke. Each carried four soldiers. A raiding party, thought Jude, images of rampaging injuns flooding his mind.
Dashing from the store, he threw himself behind the wheel of the Jeep and turned over the engine. It coughed and sputtered, then caught, firing fitfully. He grasped the gearshift and thrust it into first gear. Executing a U-turn, he slammed his foot on the accelerator and peeled out of Inzell like a rider for the Pony Express.
The road was steep and straight, graded from the dirt of the hillside. An army of enormous pine trees blocked out the sun, lining both sides of the path like an honor guard of Frederick the Great's giant bodyguards. He downshifted into second gear, then plunged the gas to the floorboard. Through a curtain of dust, he could see the tails of the Jeeps far in front of him. One after the other, they disappeared. Judge slowed. A moment later, he heard the growl of their engines approaching. Raising his head, he caught sight of the first Jeep traversing a switchback twenty feet above his head. A shower of dirt and gravel sprayed his vehicle. Instinctively, he lifted a hand from the wheel to shield himself from the debris, and in that moment he lost his chance to navigate the hairpin curve ahead. Bringing the Jeep to a halt, he ripped the gearshift into reverse and backed up ten feet.
His troubles had just begun. Starting the Jeep on flat ground was one thing; starting it on an incline quite another. Time after time, he muscled the gearshift into first, applying the gas with his right foot while gently releasing the clutch with his left. Time after time, the Jeep bucked, stalled, and slid further down the hill. To hell with this, he thought, frustration heating to molten anger. Finding reverse, he cocked his head over a shoulder and guided the Jeep back down the road into Inzell. Once on flat ground, he started over.
Hurry! he urged himself, images of von Luck's rigid body coming to mind.
Fifteen minutes later, he reached the top of the hill. The Jeeps were nowhere in sight. He had no trouble, though, finding Sonnenbrucke. It stood at the far end of a grassy valley, protected by towering stone sentinels.
Judge powered the Jeep toward the fairy-tale castle, hurtling down the bumpy lane at seventy miles per hour, faster even than he'd dared on the autobahn. Nearing the entry to Sonnenbrucke, he spotted the twin Jeeps advancing on him from far down the limestone drive. He slammed on the brakes and spun the wheel so that the Jeep diagonally blocked the road. He wondered what ruse they'd used to lure Ingrid Bach from her home, or if they'd said "to hell with it" and killed her right there. His hand dropped to his side in a vain quest for his pistol. It had gone up with the rest of the armory. All the while he searched for a flash of platinum hair.
Climbing onto his seat, he waves his arms, gesturing for the Jeeps to stop. When the lead Jeep had closed to within thirty yards, he saw that Ingrid was not in either vehicle. Puzzled, he stopped his frantic signaling and jumped to the ground.
"You okay?" yelled the driver of the lead Jeep, slowing to a halt. His rank and insignia gave him as a master sergeant assigned to the 101stAirborne, part of Carswell's Seventh Army. "The little green beast give out on you?"
Judge ignored the question, rushing to his side. "Where is Miss Bach?"
"I'm sure she's inside, sir," answered the sergeant, crew cut, fat and fifty.
"What business did you have with her?"
The sergeant looked dumbfounded. "Why, none. My men and I form part of the detachment guarding Alfred Bach. What his daughter does or doesn't do is her own affair."
"Or the general's," cracked a wiseacre from the bleachers.
So the word had spread, thought Judge. There was no more efficient conduit for passing along rumors than the United States fighting man. "Who were the soldiers that just arrived?"
"Them?" The sergeant peered over his shoulder. "Changing of the guard. Ten minutes late, I might add. Don't tell me they were racing again?"
"No," said Judge, dragging his foot in the dirt. "Just a misunderstanding on my part. Sorry to bother you."
"No problem at all, Major." Judge offered a sheepish wave as the Jeeps set off down the drive. He wasn't angry at making a fool of himself so much as drawing attention to his presence. Yon Luck's murder had left him edgy, feeling as if his stomach were lined with broken glass. It came to him that his worries for Ingrid Bach might have as much to do with his interest in her than any immediate danger she was in. In his agitated mood, he dismissed the notion as an insult to his professionalism. He was simply doing his duty.
A few hundred yards further on he came to the group who'd flown by him in Inzell. The sentry asked his name, unit, and the purpose of his visit, before waving him on. Judge craned his neck to get a view of the guard's clipboard. There it was: his name scribbled in black ink, the time of arrival given as 12:22 hours and under the column headed "purpose", the words "personal business". A record of his visit for anyone who cared to check.
Ingrid Bach answered the door herself. She wore a simple calico dress, a stained apron tied around it. Her hair was bundled into a scarf, albeit a silk one. Her face was pale, absent all trace of makeup.Sit her on a street corner, give her a brick to clean, and she'd still look like queen of the ball, thought Judge, as he entered Sonnenbrucke's foyer.
"They're still shooting my precious chamois, Major, if you've come to see about that." She said it reticently, leaving it open for him to take up where they'd left off Friday night.
"Police business, I'm afraid."
"Oh?" Her body stiffened in learned reflex to his tone of voice.
Moving further into the great hall, Judge removed his cap and tucked it under an arm. "I need you to accompany me on an errand. You'll need a change of clothes, a toothbrush, whatever items you usually require for an overnight visit."
"I beg your pardon?" she said.
"I'll have you back by tomorrow afternoon at this time." He checked his watch. "Maybe earlier."
She placed a hand on her hip and he could see she was readying one of her patented barrages. This was her territory, she was going to say, and she wasn't going to be pushed around. "You don't really expect me to-"
"Now!" Judge said louder than he'd intended. "This is not a request. Go upstairs and get your things together. Hurry it up."
Ingrid Bach took a tentative step closer, her hand raised in mute protest.
"Please," said Judge, softly this time. "We need to leave quickly. We have a long drive in front of us."
Herbert, the butler, approached from the recesses of the hallway, Ingrid's blond son at his side. The old man asked if everything was all right. She nodded curtly and smiled, asking him to take Pauli upstairs. She'd come in a minute.
"We will be back tomorrow?" Ingrid eyed him doubtfully.
"By noon. I promise." Judge watched the boy disappear upstairs. "Can Herbert manage with your son?"
"He's practically his father. My sister, Hilda, is with us now, too. She arrived yesterday to help care for Papa."
Hilda- the daughter being held in a pen outside Essen pending review of her role in the daily affairs of Bach Industries. They're war criminals, all of them, Judge warned himself. Off Limits.
Ingrid paused before retreating up the stairs. "May I at least ask what this is about?"
Judge met her inquisitive gaze. "It's about him," he answered. "It's about Erich Seyss."
Neither of them spoke until the Jeep was down the mountain and traveling at a comfortable speed along the autobahn. Ingrid kept her face turned away from Judge, playing the part of unwilling prisoner with the same aplomb she brought to her roles as hausfrau, estate owner and belle of the ball. Judge was amazed at her ability to corral her curiosity. Feeling intimidated by her self control and maybe angered by it, too, he guarded his silence. It was difficult. Part of him wanted to explain why he'd kidnapped her so brusquely and what would be required of her once they reached Heidelberg. Another to grill her mercilessly about Egon's ties to Erich Seyss. Instead, he used the quiet to consider what exactly he could tell her about Seyss and how much he could reveal about Bauer's plans. He did not want to burden her with information which would only serve to endanger her life.
Finally, he could stand it no longer. "Aren't you interested where I'm taking you?"
She granted him a victorious glance. "I imagine I'll find out soon enough."
"Heidelberg," he said. "To the military hospital."
Her head snapped toward him. "Is he hurt?"
"Not exactly." Ingrid looked away, her eyes trained on the horizon. She understood that tone, too.
"We'd like you to identify his body," he said. "He was gravely wounded. It won't be pleasant." It was imperative that she believe Seyss was dead. Only that way could he gauge the veracity of her reaction if, as he hoped, she claimed the corpse wasn't him.
"I'm the only one you have?"
Judge nodded, wanting to add, "You're the only one I can trust." He watched as she took a cigarette from her purse, cupped it between her hands and lit it with a Zippo similar to his own. Given the open cockpit and the roaring wind, it was no small feat. After taking a long drag, she lifted a knee onto her seat and shot him a scornful look. "So you found him, then you killed him."
Judge scoffed. "He got himself killed. He was an escaped war criminal wanted for murder of an American officer. We caught him operating on the black market."
"Funny to think of a man surviving the war only to be killed during the peace."
"He was hardly an angel. He had it coming."
"_He had it coming_," she said mocking his deep voice. "You sound like Gary Cooper. So American. So sure of what's right and what's wrong."
Judge gripped the wheel harder, knuckles flaring white. "Not always. But this time, yes, I'm sure."
"Erich was sure, too. Sure that Germany had been wronged by thediktat of Versailles. Sure that all ethnic Germans wanted to be united under a single Germany. Sure that England would never enter the war against us. He used to say Poland had been dealt and shuffled more than a deck of cards."
"I thought he wasn't political."
"That's not politics, my dear Major. It is destiny."
Judge thought it was hogwash, but kept to his line of questioning. "Would Egon agree?"
"Egon?" If she was surprised at the turn of conversation, she did not show it. "Well, yes. As long as destiny increased thekonzern's order book. If we were in the business of school wares, I can assure you he would have fought tooth and nail against Herr Hitler. But, alas, our family is in the business of selling armaments. War increases our fortunes."
"So, he and Seyss had something in common?"
"They both wanted a strong Germany. But six years ago, you could have said that about all fifty million of us."
"They weren't friends?"
"Friends?" Ingrid's sardonic laugh infuriated him. "Egon hated Erich. He was everything Egon wasn't. Tall, handsome, a soldier. You don't know Egon. He's short. His eyesight is poor. He's like a wolverine, an ugly little creature with sharp fangs and claws. He's absolutely vicious. Erich, of course, was our White Lion."
"Of course," said Judge, not bothering to hide his disdain. But the provenance of his next words mystified him. "And he had you. Even a brother would be jealous."
Ingrid dropped her eyes, and when she answered, her voice had gone flat. "Yes. For as long as they allowed him."